5 Things Wilmington Is Talking About On Tuesday, September 28, 2021: New Senior Center & New Town Hall Projects Suffer Setback

WILMINGTON, MA — Below are 5 news items in Wilmington that residents are talking about (or will be talking about) on Tuesday, September 28, 2021:

  • Most members of the Board of Selectmen balked at last night’s presentation on selecting a site for a new Senior Center and a new Town Hall/School Administration Building. (The two building committees recently held a joint meeting and decided the best spot for a Senior Center was the town-owned property next to St. Dorothy’s, while the Swain Green was seen as the best location for a new Town Hall/School Administration Building.) To say Monday’s presentation did not go well would be an understatement.
    • “This is the most confusing presentation I’ve ever seen,” said Selectman Gary DePalma. “It’s mass confusion right now. You should go back to the drawing board…. Get a presentation together that we can see, appreciate and understand what’s going on.”
    • “I don’t feel comfortable in endorsing a plan tonight based on how this information was presented. I’d suggest we table and take no action,” said Selectwoman Judy O’Connell. “The board needs more time to formulate questions and to get a presentation that we can understand — something a little different besides matrixes with numbers and metrics.” O’Connell noted she had concerns about the Swain Green site that wasn’t captured in the matrixes, including impacts on student parking and its high water table. O’Connell also requested more context regarding some of the scores on the matrixes, and why some metrics were assigned a multiplier. She also expressed a desire for more public involvement in the site selection process. “I understand it may come later on, but that means you would have gone too far down the track at one of these sites before getting public input.”
    • “We ought to take a closer look at these three specific sites (St. Dorothy’s, Swain Green and existing Town Hall site on Glen Road). I agree we should analyze each a little more,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “People are concerned about the costs of these projects. Is one site cost prohibitive relative to cost? Is one site more advantageous relative to costs? We haven’t gotten to that point yet.” Bendel would like information relative to costs prior to selecting sites. He would also like a 3D visual to show residents, rather than a 11×17 matrix that can’t be easily understood or quickly explained while walking through Market Basket.
    • “We’ll come back with a far better presentation,” promised OPM Dan Pallotta.
    • “When we come back the next time, we want this to go a little better,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull later in the discussion. 
  • It was Selectman Kevin Caira who was the most vocal against the presentation, citing lots of unanswered questions.
    • Caira wanted to know why the OPM and architects did not consider utilizing the land where the Glen Road fields are located behind Town Hall. Caira said new fields could be built at the St. Dorothy’s site, allowing for a new Senior Center to be built at the current Town Hall site, potentially even with a new Town Hall next to it. Caira repeatedly asked the OPM who instructed him not to “touch the fields.”
    • “The buck stops with me,” responded Town Manager Hull. “I did not believe it was advisable to take the fields out of circulation for the purpose of construction a facility, in part, because we’ve recently spent $80,000 on pickleball courts, $75,000 on lights for the field, and more money on fencing. The other concern was with taking those fields out of commission for at least 2-3 years, we may not be able to accommodate the displaced Pop Warner and Little League… If we tried to interfere with the activities on those fields, we would automatically have two constituencies that would be opposed to this project. I didn’t want to create this risk.”
    • Caira responded that we do not know that, and that the leagues may want new fields built at St. Dorothy’s instead. They haven’t been reached out to. “I understand the importance of the fields. But we should turn over every stone. We should check everything out. Can we take half the fields? All possibilities should be explored. We need to explore every avenue in order to make an educated decision.”
    • Caira also said he has constituents who have requested that the Swain Green and municipal parking lot remain as open space and continue to host outdoor community events, including Fun on the Fourth, Tree Lighting, and Farmers Market. He also expressed the site’s parking constraints, noting losing spots would have an adverse effect on student parking, plus parking at sporting events, concerts, plays and other major events at the high school.
    • Caira would like to see consideration be given to building a joint Senior Center-Community Center, where the Senior Center would be located on the first floor and a Community Center would be built on the second floor.
    • Caira also criticized the OPM for not conducting any public forums, surveys or social media outreach to gather public input on the site selection. “Let’s find out what the public wants. The buck stops with the Selectmen, but the public are paying the bucks.”
  • Seniors in the audience were not happy with the Selectmen delaying making a decision on site selection.
    • “We’ve been at this for two years,” Suzanne Clarkin told Selectmen. “As my mother used to say, it’s time to poop or get off the pot. I’ve been to every public meeting. Where have you guys been? I understand the matrix because I’ve been at the meetings that led up to this. We’re wasting time. If [Selectman Caira and Selectman Bendel] disagreed with the [site selection recommendations] at the joint meeting, why did they vote yes? Shame on you.”
    • Bendel, who represents the Selectmen on the Senior Center Building Committee, and Caira, who represents the Selectmen on the Town Hall/School Administration Building Committee, said that they voted in favor of the site recommendations in order to get the process to the next step — a discussion and decision at the Board of Selectmen level. Clarkin asked Bendel to put a time limit on this step. Bendel responded that he looks forward to supporting a new Senior Center when the time comes.
    • “Time is not a friend to seniors. The longer your take, the less the seniors who showed up at that original meeting are going to be around,” said Debra Russo. “I can’t believe we’re going on 2 years and now we’re talking about costs. In December 2019, when we seniors made a presentation to the Board of Selectmen, the Town of Wilmington was blessed with $38 million in free cash and capital stabilization funds. It was the 5th largest reserves in the state. We asked, at that meeting, for the Selectmen to consider sponsoring a Town Meeting article to give us $8.75 million of free cash to build a Senior Center from soup to nuts. It wouldn’t have cost anybody anything. You didn’t want to do it. Now you’re dragging your feet. Wilmington is a very desirable town, in part, because of the long-term seniors that put their time and effort into making this community what it is. Our way of saying thanks is to drag our feet? No one wants to touch the ballfields. They have kids playing on it. I understand the matrix. What is the problem? If there were any issues with community centers, it should have come up a long time before this. This meeting was supposed to be about choosing a site. I don’t think you guys are doing your job.”
    • Selectman Bendel responded that he takes exception to the idea that the board is dragging its feet. He noted that, for the first time in more than 50 years, the town is close to a new senior center, pointing to the formation of the building committee and an investment in an OPM and architect. “We’re closer than we ever have been before.”
    • Wilmington Public Buildings Superintendent George Hooper, who is chairing both Building Committees, noted that the Facility Master Plan identified the Glen Road fields are pristine; that the Master Plan identified the Town Common area as an ideal location for the Town Hall/School Administration Building; and that matrixes aren’t out of the ordinary and were used for site selection of the new high school and other projects in town.
    • School Committee member MJ Byrnes, who was in the audience, said the Selectmen should prioritize and focus on the Senior Center, then the Town Hall. She says that both projects are getting slowed down and things are getting convoluted.
    • Select Chair Lil Maselli agreed that the town should focus on one project at a time — Senior Center, then Town Hall. She was adamant that the Glen Road fields not be touched. She also felt that some of the concerns from her colleagues seemed as if they were being brought up at “the 11th hour.”
  • At last night’s meeting, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the Town Clerk’s recommended new precinct maps. The town is required to redraw precinct lines after every federal census, following a strict set of criteria. The impact to Wilmington voters will be minimal, with most residents not changing precincts, and most of those who do will still vote at the same polling location. Only approximately 200 households, mostly in the Silver Lake neighborhood, will change both precincts and polling locations. Of note, another 400 voters will be getting a new State Rep — approximately 200 voters are moving from Precinct 3 (State Rep. Ken Gordon) to Precinct 4 (State Rep. Dave Robertson), and a similar amount are moving in the other direction. Voters will be made aware of their precinct in the town’s  annual census mailing. Any voter that is changing precincts will also get a separate postcard mailing. The town will also utilize the local press and social media to get the word out.
  • According to Town Finance Director Bryan Perry and the town’s financial advisors, Wilmington has decreased its OPEB liability (Other Post-Employment Benefits — health insurance and dental insurance for retired employees) by $6.4 million in one year, seeing a reduction from $110.4 million (June 30, 2020) to $104 million (June 30, 2021). The town’s Net OPEB Liability, when factoring in investment gains in the OPEB Trust Fund, is down further to $94.1 million. The Town will continue to transfer a significant appropriation (typically $1 million) each year into the trust fund at Annual Town Meetings to continue to help the town defray these costs.

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